Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3 Reasons to Boo Slumdog at the Oscars

I hope Slumdog Millionaire gets booed at the Oscar ceremonies on 22 February. Here are three reasons why.

The movie is poverty porn, titillating affluent audiences with a bizarrely unrealistic presentation of the lives of the poor. The so-called "feel-good" element of the young hero winning out at the end is like dabbing on icing on a piece of shit (to use the movie's own idiom) and declaring it cake

The British producers of the movie have been overtly exploitative of the poor children they hired. The girl in the role of the young heroine was paid $500; the boy who takes the memorable dive into a pool of shit got $1500. The explanation for these miserable wages? "It's far more than adults in their neighborhood would make in an entire year." Sounds like something Mr. Krup might have said about slave labor his company used in Nazi concentration camps.

The movie is anti-Indian propaganda of a style the British perfected during a century of colonial rule to convince the world that the country needed civilizing European supervision. During the six+ decades of Indian independence the propaganda has continued unabated. As India surmounted unbelievable odds to maintain an open and free democracy, as it doubled life expectancy and halved the share of the population living in the worst poverty, the British have done everything possible to see that the world's view of the country remained dark.

Just one example of how this has been done: each of the four "Man Booker" prizes for literary excellence given to Indian authors -- an award that raises its recipients to global prominence -- has gone to deracinated individuals whose perspectives have been quintessentially British. Salman Rushdie (now "Sir"Salman), presented India as a huge and dissipated freak-show in Midnight's Children. Arundhati Roy set her affecting love story of characters disempowered by gender and caste in Kerala, the one part of India where advances on both fronts have been revolutionary. Kiran Desai's Remembrance of Loss told of post-colonial angst in the Darjeeling hills; every single character in it comes to a sad and dispiriting end. Arun Adiga's The White Tiger is an open and unmitigated assault on India's hard-earned image as a country undergoing rapid economic and social progress.

Slumdog continues that assault. Boo it.


Pierre said...

Sir, you've covered the UN. You, most of all, should know that while India's GDP growth is relatively strong, our human development indicators are calculated by the UN continue to place us well below many asian and african countries. Slumdog millionaire isn't 'poverty porn'. Spend a night in (or even near) an Indian slum. You may begin to think differently. I won't even begin to describe the hopelessness of most of our farmers who are little better than bonded labourers on someone else's land.

Anonymous said...

You need to be a nationalist to tune into Bhaskar's point of view. The recent outburst by Jaggi in Firstpost is a continuation of that mindset where we are okay with putting ourselves down. The real damage is not just the image that the British have made for/of us, but that they have convinced us that we are inferior. Even the achievements shown (especially on English language TV in India) is more in the nature of sideshow while the main discourse remains one of grime and hopelessness. We ban books showing Shivaji in a poor light. Why don't we ban movies showing India in a poor light. If not ban, at least not laud them.